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Carlton: Why protest the presidential election? Because it's America

About 1,000 people gathered at Demens Landing in St. Petersburg to peacefully protest President-elect Donald Trump. The group then traveled through downtown and according to estimates is the largest organized protest of Donald Trump in the Tampa Bay area since the election. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

About 1,000 people gathered at Demens Landing in St. Petersburg to peacefully protest President-elect Donald Trump. The group then traveled through downtown and according to estimates is the largest organized protest of Donald Trump in the Tampa Bay area since the election. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Had this monumental presidential election gone the other way — the way a whole lot of people across America thought it would — right now there would be some serious eye-rolling going on.

If the protests that have played out in cities across America were about Hillary Clinton winning — or more specifically, Donald Trump not winning — a lot of people would look at those chanting crowds waving their signs and think:

Get over it already.

You lost.

Move on with your life.

Your yelling changes exactly nothing.

This is America. It's what we do. But is there a point in protesting a fact you cannot change — that Trump is America's next president?

I asked Tampa community organizer Kelly Benjamin, who has been part of post-election anti-Trump rallies, including Sunday night's sizable march in downtown St. Petersburg. He does not mince words, talking about racism and sexism and fear of what's to come, invoking people who spoke out as Hitler came into power and talking about the loss of progress his country has made.

"Right now, this is a safety valve," he says. "People are frustrated. People are afraid for their future, their family, their friends, their neighbors."

"People aren't crybabies," he says.

At rallies, he says, he's seen men and women, gay and straight, professionals, firefighters, teachers, military. "I saw people from all walks of life raising their voices," Benjamin says. "What could be more American than that?"

It's a point. The right to peacefully demonstrate our dissent is hard-fought — I'll even use the word precious — and also something that does not happen in other places without risk of terrible repercussion.

"I think first and foremost, it gives people a sense of hope that there is a united resistance," Benjamin says.

There has been a thing particularly disheartening in news reports about these protests across the country: Some participants who are interviewed acknowledge that they voted for neither Clinton nor Trump, they did not vote at all or they voted for one of the other candidates who stood no chance whatsoever. Even with stakes so high.

But that's America, too: your right to be apathetic or to throw your vote into the wind. And then, to complain about how things turn out afterward anyway. We protect that, too.

Benjamin also points out that from united opposition can spring movement.

Change, in the old-school definition of the word.

"The day after Obama's election, did we not see the birth of the tea party? Do you remember?" he says. "I think that's important to recognize — when their side lost, they did the exact same thing."

And it's about organizing for the next four years, he says.

"We can't sit this stuff out," he says. "We can't stay home."

For some people, maybe it is a loss so great they can't let it can't pass without some kind of action.

Maybe it's less about thinking a movement could alter who won and more about giving dissent the kind of voice that comes from great numbers of them pulling together.

And maybe it's about making sure history reflects that people pushed back in a place where they still can.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

Carlton: Why protest the presidential election? Because it's America 11/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2016 6:12pm]
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